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Codeine is a medicine that is used to relieve pain and to reduce coughing.

Looking for a medicine?

Visit healthdirect’s list of medicines that contain codeine to find out more about a specific medicine.

To get codeine, you need a doctor's prescription.

You can buy codeine-containing medications from a pharmacy.

Here you will find more information on what codeine is, what it's used for, how it works, its risks and alternative treatment options.

What is codeine used for?

Codeine can be used to relieve mild to moderate pain. It is also used to treat dry coughs.

Your doctor might prescribe codeine for another reason. If you are unsure about why you are taking codeine, ask your doctor.

How does codeine work?

Codeine works by changing the way the brain senses and responds to pain. It also suppresses the activity in the brain that controls coughing.

What forms of codeine are available?

Codeine is available on its own, or in combination with other medicines like paracetamol, ibuprofen or aspirin. It is available in different:

  • brands
  • forms, including tablets, capsules and liquids
  • strengths
  • packaging
  • pack sizes

Risks of taking codeine

Each person responds to medicines differently. Just because a side effect is listed, it doesn't mean you will experience it. Even if you experience a side effect, you and your doctor will need to weigh up the medicine's benefits against its risks before deciding what to do.

Common side effects of codeine include:

Serious side effects of codeine that need immediate medical attention include:

Codeine should not be given to children or teenagers under 18 after surgery to remove their tonsils or adenoids since it may slow their breathing, and in rare cases has led to death.

Taking codeine over long periods can be addictive.

This is not a full list of side effects for codeine. For more information, talk to your doctor or pharmacist. If you experience a serious or life-threatening side effect, you should immediately call triple zero (000).

Access to overdose-reversing medication

Naloxone is a drug that can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose. A pilot program, funded by the Australian government, will offer certain individuals in NSW, SA and WA this medication (including the nasal spray Nyxoid) for free and without a prescription during the period 1 December 2019 to 28 February 2021.

Learn more about the Take Home Naloxone pilot here, or contact the Pharmacy Programs Administrator to find out how to register.

Alternatives to codeine

Many other painkillers and cough-suppressing medicines can be used instead of codeine. Talk to your pharmacist or doctor about choosing the most suitable medicine for you or your child, based on your symptoms and overall health.

If you have chronic (long-term) pain your doctor might suggest lifestyle changes to help manage the discomfort. This may include physical fitness and activity pacing, social activities, relaxation techniques and overall health management.

This page does not give you all the information about codeine. Please read the Consumer Medicines Information (CMI) for the brand of codeine you are taking, and if you have important questions, ask your pharmacist or doctor.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: December 2018

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